words Nick Clarke
“The only way to stand out was to do something boring and minimalist,” says Marc Koehler, the Dutch architect behind Ijburg House. Designed to jar against the try-hard aesthetic of the surrounding houses – all of which are built in an array of colours and materials on the new Ijburg island to the east of Amsterdam – Koehler wanted to keep the design of Ijburg House simple by using one monochromatic palette, one cubist shape and a minimum number of materials.
The 140sq m, three-bedroom house was commissioned by a private client who stipulated that it must be low budget, ecological and energy efficient, but they also wanted a sense of permanence in the design – something, as Koehler says, that didn’t look like it could be “blown up by terrorists or destroyed in a storm”. And that’s exactly what the architect delivered, with a robust cubic design. Outsourced to design firm Made.up, the interiors incorporate storage spaces that are integrated into thick walls to open up space and afford the house even more mass and, in turn, more robustness. Exploring the relationship between public and private spaces, as well as individual and collective, the interior is defined by large cut-away windows that connect the street with the open spaces found within.
The exterior is the project’s defining feature. Clad in grey bricks, the facade showcases the kind of ornamental masonry popular before the standardised, ready-made techniques enforced during the Second World War, effectively reviving a once-redundant texturing effect and integrating age-old craftsmanship within contemporary architecture. Positioned on the only corner free of windows or plants, the bricks are placed so that they jut out in a thick interlocking pattern before gradually thinning out and flattening into the wall. And the result is not only decorative, but provides a vertical frame on which flora and fauna can flourish in an otherwise densely populated area. Changing the face of the house over time, the “functional ornament”, as Koehler himself describes it, is alive with kiwi, grapes, berries, applies and climbers, all of which act as a “natural curtain” over the structure. Now Koehler’s signature, the tangible aspect of his designs is no less evident as in Ijburg House, being “as interesting to the touch as it is to look at”.
images Marcel van der Burg